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The Precipice

What a difference 3 years can make.

Let’s face it – in 'football time’, 3 years can be an eternity.

It was 2009, and Jim Zorn was trying his best to get out of DC with some shred of self-respect, with only partial success. In his 2nd and final season, Zorn’s Redskins had won just 4 games while being relegated to the basement of the NFC East. Fans were in outright revolt, their once heralded franchise the laughing stock of the NFL. The Redskins sported the 26th ranked offense in the league, and no solution, save 'blowing it up’ again, was in sight.

I wrote a blog that year, titled 'Sunday’s Smell’. I’ve thought about that blog a number of times during this 2012 season, as the Redskins have become something I was barely capable of even conjuring in those darker days. It was a blog birthed from pure frustration, about who we were as Redskins fans, where we’d been, and most importantly, wondering where in God’s name we might be going…

In that 2009 blog, I finally asked myself the obvious question. Why would any of us continue to subject ourselves to the pain that was being a Washington Redskins fan?

What strange creatures of habit we are.

To wake slowly from slumber, roll from bed, and realize with a quiet excitement – it’s Sunday, and the Redskins will play today – ah…what a glorious feeling it’s always been. There, in the deep recesses of our wakening consciousness, we remember 'the thought’. That no matter whom they are facing, those beloved, beleaguered, bemoaned, bedeviled burgundy and gold bastards might just pull victory from the jaws of defeat today. The smell of our first cups of coffee wafts through our households on these Sunday mornings, filling the house with the sweet air of ’possibility’.

We used to call them the 'Sons of Washington’. We like to pretend they still are. But it’s not true anymore. We want it to be true, because it’s what we are, and these men play and fight in our stead. We grew up on the streets of DC, Maryland, Virginia. We shared the same childhoods. We took field trips to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the Air and Space Museum, raced our brothers and sisters to the top of the Washington Monument, and visited the pandas at the National Zoo. When we grew up, we partied in the bars of DC, Old Town Alexandria, and Georgetown. We went to colleges at College Park, Charlottesville, Blacksburg, and a thousand places in between. But we never lost our way – we always knew we were 'Sons of Washington’

Sure, NFL football is a wonderful, exciting game. But what drove us to make it such a big part of our lives, if we’re being honest, as important as work, family, and friends? What was it about our Redskins fandom that so inflamed our passions? How could we endure the heartache and disappointment that rooting for a broken, stumbling, and bumbling franchise now encompassed?

For me, the answer was clear. Our fandom was part of our heritage, how we grew up, who we were, where we came from.

But in 2009, Redskins fans were at the precipice.

Some of us, the lucky ones, got to taste glory. Maybe it’s why we’re still around. An unknown, fallen into our laps from the tree of Don Coryell, flew in from San Diego. That first season, he was Jim Zorn. Clueless, hapless, unassuming – he didn’t look or talk like a football coach. Turned out he was though – one hell of a football coach. We know, because we screamed ourselves giddily senseless cheering his Redskins on to 3 Super Bowl wins in a decade. It was sweet fan nirvana in Washington DC. Other fans hated us with certain passion – a sure sign of our dominance in that era. Sadly, current Redskins fans can’t even take solace in knowing things have been different here. I really feel for them.

Like all beneficiaries of incredible good fortune, those lucky enough to have enjoyed it took it for granted, not believing it would ever end. Not really.

Well Redskins fans. It’s gone.

And suddenly we find ourselves asking… how did the infamously hapless teams of NFL history arrive at their haplessness? Could we be destined for that fate? What magical formula could lead to Dante’s 9 circles of NFL hell? Might we already be on our way there?

And gone it was. We’d watched a storied franchise become that which we never believed it could become – one that could not win. Fans questioned everything about this team, its veteran players, the front office, and most savagely, the competence of its lightning rod owner. Fans, this one included, were fed up.

But even at that 2009 nadir, at the edge of hopelessness, a tiny smoldering ember of something we call 'hope’ stubbornly burned.

I don’t believe a return to glory in Washington DC is impossible. But it will require new ownership or a real paradigm shift starting at the top of the current regime. Hire great people. Give control to a football boss who knows how to run a football team (they call them G.M.’s I think?). Make sure none of these folks are your friends. Leave. Them. Alone. Let them do what they know how to do. Plan for the next 20 years, not next year. Make hard decisions and sacrifices today in order to enjoy a promising tomorrow. Set aside your maniacal and cutthroat business acumen. Ditch the Armani suit, sunglasses, celebrity friends, and your famous glare. Uncross your ****ing arms and be nice to people. Mean it. Put on a redskins sweatshirt. Hell, wear it to meetings. Smile. Give honest, sincere interviews. Stop blaming the press for asking legitimate questions about your failing franchise. Stop coveting your fans wallets. Try not to sue season ticket holders. When fans bitch, ask 'why?’, and respond 'maybe my customers have a point and we should do something about that’. Watch 'Heaven Can Wait’ – practice being Warren Beatty at the board meeting.

I don’t think we’ll ever be a great organization or a winning franchise if some of the above doesn’t occur first. Of course football is about football. Even Satan might win a few games now and then (we may have already proven it). But in life, sometimes you get what you deserve. Today’s Redskins are a cutthroat, money-first, leadership by intimidation organization. The bad karma encompassed in those qualities alone could keep us mired in mediocrity for the rest of my days if we’re not careful. Step one in turning the ship around – create an organization that’s first and foremost about creating a positive organization, about quality, that’s about doing the right things even when no one’s looking or writing a story in the Post about it. Figure out what this franchise is about, and start living it. Things will fall into place. Great people will fall over themselves to join you. Good things might happen.

And incredibly, amazingly, stupifyingly, just 3 years removed from this angst-ridden, morbidly depressing blog entry, good things have, in fact, happened.

Our Redskins owner is barely mentioned in the press these days. What’s his name again? We’ve got a quality General Manager and coaching staff that knows what it’s doing. Our 2012 coaching staff doesn’t care what the owner, press, or the fans think – they know football and that’s what drives their every decision. In the face of skepticism, criticism, even scorn, they’ve kept the faith and begun putting the pieces of a successful franchise together, most notably, doing what it took to acquire a young QB who truly will be the face of this franchise for the next decade.

My, how far we’ve come in 3 years. We’ve watched in wonderment and amazement as a team, once poised on the brink of disaster and irrelevance, now faces a precipice of another kind. Across this abyss, you can glimpse glory.

Sunday’s coming. I can smell it.

This one will be a Sunday unlike any we’ve seen in DC in a long, long time. A Sunday full of promise and hope. A Sunday where everything is on the line. A late December Sunday where the outcome matters. A Sunday that could be inspiring, even legendary.

I can’t wait to see where this Sunday, and the many Sundays to follow, takes us.

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